The good stuff is spreading

March 21, 2001|By Jane Snow | Jane Snow,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

"What is this stuff?"

When the fourth friend posed the same question during a restaurant review, I knew a remedial lesson was in order. The "stuff" is tapenade, and it is everywhere these days. It also is delicious.

Tapenade is a spread traditionally made with black olives, anchovies, capers and olive oil. The ingredients are pureed and slathered on crusty bread as an appetizer. The spread originated in the sunny south of France, where the fixings are readily available.

You probably won't find classic tapenade in many restaurants, though. Chefs in chic bistros have been taking liberties with the basic ingredients, substituting sun-dried tomatoes for the anchovies and even salmon and other ingredients for the olives. The only thing "tapenade" about some of these creations is that the result is spread on bread.

Classic tapenade is so good in itself that it needs no tinkering. It is easy to make, and would be a lightning-quick but classy way to begin a meal.

The first step is to track down the proper olives. By rights, they should be the tiny, wrinkled, black Nicoise olives that are popular in Provence. But the small, wrinkled, oil-cured black olives sold in many supermarkets are a good substitute. The olives are jet-black, not the mottled dark brown of kalamata olives. They are usually sold by the pound rather than in jars or cans.

If you're lucky, you'll find pitted olives. If not, you must remove the pits yourself. A pint of olives - about 1/2 pound - should be enough for our recipe.

Tapenade

Makes about 1 cup

2 tablespoons drained capers

4 anchovy fillets

1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)

1 tablespoon rum

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups ( 1/2 pound) pitted black oil-cured olives

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.- From "Bistro Cooking" by Patricia Wells (Workman Publishing Co. Inc., 1989)

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